One of the recurring themes this winter is that teams covet power. Teams are looking for hitters that can hit balls out of the yard and for relievers who can throw gas. If the bullpen arm can produce groundballs, even better. While Tampa made more moves near the trade deadline in August than this off season, they have still addressed needs. First, here is a recap of who has joined the Rays in December following the signing of Ernesto Frieri in November along with the trades of Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta:
Acquired by the Rays: Kevin Jepsen, Rene Rivera, Burch Smith, Jake Bauers, Steven Souza, Travis Ott
Traded by the Rays: Matt Joyce, Wil Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jose Castillo, Gerardo Reyes
With Steven Souza, Rene Rivera and Kevin Jepsen, the Rays got three players with power, albeit different types. Souza slugged a robust .590 in AAA Syracuse this past season and already has a highlight reel catch to his credit during Jordan Zimmermann’s no hitter in 2014. Rivera had 11 home runs with the Padres in 103 games last year and spent some time batting cleanup. To create room in the outfield for Souza, the Rays shipped Matt Joyce to the Angels for relief pitcher Kevin Jepsen. Jepsen recovered his velocity last year, resulting in a 10.39 K/9. At first glance, it looks like all three players have a great chance of success in Tampa.
This move allows Souza the chance to win a starting gig in the outfield, which would obviously not be the case if he was still a member of the Nationals. He has an intriguing power/speed combo, but he is probably a bit too old to be considered a prospect.
This is punctuated by his numbers in the minors over the last two years. Here are his stats for each season:
Steven Souza 2013 AA: 77 G, 54 R, 15 HR, 44 RBI, 20 SB, .300/.396/.557
Steven Souza 2014 AAA: 96 G, 62 R, 18 HR, 75 RBI, 26 SB, .350/.432/.590
For comparison’s sake, here are the two positions last year with cumulative stats for the season that Souza and Rene Rivera will look to help Tampa improve upon:
Souza’s Steamer projection pegs him for 11 home runs and 15 stolen bases while hitting .250/.322/.415 in 81 games. It’s not bad, as it will be hard to expect him to maintain the OBP and SLG% he displayed in the minors. If he can get into 120 games he could be a great value play in AL-only leagues and usable in mixed formats. With the number of players that can hit 15 home runs and steal 20 or more bases declining, these skills come at a premium. It will be interesting to see if Souza can win the right field job out of spring training. If he can, he is worth a long look. In Syracuse, he actually displayed more power against right-handed pitching. hitting 14 of his 18 round trippers against them while slashing .359/.432/.618. Souza had a respectable slash line against lefties as well (.322/.433/.506). I would not be shocked to see Souza finish with 20 homers and 25 steals, albeit with an average right around .250.
The Rays very rarely had a great hitting catcher during the Joe Maddon regime. Rather, a veteran who could handle the pitching staff and throw out baserunners. Rivera is not only a highly regarded defensive backstop, he also has some pop. He has thrown out 39% of base stealers (league average 28%) over the course of his career. Pair that with his 11 home runs and .252/.319/.432 slash line last year and he is a huge offensive upgrade to the Rays without sacrificing defense. Here is Rivera’s home run overlay with Tropicana Field as the backdrop:
Rivera also played three games at first base so he could give James Loney some days off against tough left-handed hurlers. This makes Rivera a nice AL-only target, and if he can play 120 games for Tampa Bay, a solid number two in fantasy mixed leagues.
The addition of Kevin Jepsen further solidifies their bullpen. With Jake McGee succumbing to surgery, this gives Tampa even more depth. It will allow them to shorten games for their young staff while adding a pitcher who throws hard and generates grounders:
Over the last three years Jepsen has averaged 9.2 whiffs per 9 and 3.04 K:BB. His 3.21 ERA and 1.20 WHIP during that span are nothing to sneeze at either. Further, if Jepsen’s numbers from 2014 can hold, he will give the Rays another viable option at the back end of their pen to close games. While this is a muddled situation right now, hopefully the roles will crystalize in spring training. But it appears that the Rays are committed to strong young pitching with a rotation of Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly along with a deep, hard-throwing bullpen. They also have Nate Karns and Alex Colome who can step in for Moore until he is ready to return from surgery. It is rotational depth that the Yankees would kill for.
Tampa Bay has also acquired three prospects this month. The group is highlighted by first baseman Jake Bauers and pitcher Burch Smith who came from San Diego along with young left handed-pitching prospect Travis Ott from Washington. Ott is the prototypical gamble that the Rays like to take. As a prospect as he pitched in single A as a 19 year old and had one win in 55 innings for Auburn in the New York Penn league, recording a 45:26 K:BB and 3.93 ERA. He will have time to develop and has a feel for pitching. Burch Smith rose quickly in San Diego’s system until he experienced forearm problems, now he appears ticketed for the bullpen. However, he can reach the low 90’s with his fastball and also has a changeup and curveball that could play well in relief. Jake Bauers only reached single A as well and hit .296/.376/.414 in 112 games last year, adding 8 home runs. Many believe his power will evolve as he ages. All in all, a prototypical return in swapping out Wil Myers for a less expensive equally valued player in Souza and finding a solid defensive catcher who may provide upside in the power department in Rivera. If Jepsen closes any games he will more than make up for the loss of Matt Joyce who fell behind Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer last year in the outfield. It will be fun to see if Nick Franklin can excel with the Rays as well after the Mariners gave up on him. The Rays will be a team with deep pitching depth, strong defense and lots of flexibility. Whether or not they can compete in the American League East remains to be seen.
Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, MiLB.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/TZpiLj
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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!